College basketball players frequently try to emulate the professional stars. It makes sense that they would strive to mirror their high-profile brethren, given that the NBA has a much larger following, has more recognizable stars, and just loves giving out massive guaranteed contracts. This imitation is fully realized in NCAA Basketball 10, which plays almost exactly like NBA Live 10. The teams are obviously different, and the players are represented by numbers rather than their birth names, but the on-court action is nearly identical. Although this is largely a good thing, considering that Live is a fun and accurate representation of the real sport, NCAA feels a little too familiar for those who have already shown off their skills on the virtual court. Furthermore, NCAA is a little stripped down in comparison. Unlike Live, you cannot take control of your favorite player in pick-up games with friends, so you're limited to the standard five-on-five action. Despite a lack of modes and a strong feeling of deja vu, this is a well-made and exciting basketball game for those who love the collegiate experience.
The offensive structure in college basketball is a little more fluid than in the NBA, and this slight difference is captured well in the play calling for NCAA Basketball. There are a number of unique motion sets to work out of, and these give you a smooth, free-flowing take on the sport, with lots of screens and quick passes to keep defenses off balance. Without an interactive tutorial to guide you through the subtle differences between the Princeton and Flex offenses, it can take a bit of practice before you figure out which way the ball should rotate and how best to attack. But once things click, it's a joy to run your offense through the high post, hit cutters racing to the basket or spot-up shooters getting open outside the arc. If things start to get bogged down, your coach will yell out helpful advice from the sideline, making sure you run the offense the right way instead of repeatedly getting into one-on-one situations and ending up with poor shots.
If you can't quite grasp the wonders of an unimpeded curl toward the basket, there are a number of individual plays you can fall back on to help you thrive in a two-man game. Calling for a screen is easy and effective. You can command a player to set a screen for you by holding down a button, and when you release it, the screener will either roll toward the hoop or step outside for an open jumper. Attacking the defense in this way doesn't allow for as many options as a well-run motion offense can, but you can still create good scoring opportunities, and it's a lot of fun as well. The post-up game isn't quite as effective, but you can still find success if you can deliver the ball to your big man when he has good position. Because you can go to a number of banks, leans, and fadeaways--depending on which direction you hold the stick when you shoot--you can punish players in the post if you can keep them guessing which way you're going to go. It can be easy to stop this with a well-timed double team, so post play takes a back seat to other offensive sets.
Unfortunately, there are a number of small problems that disrupt some of the realism. Although players can intelligently run an offense and react quickly on defense, during loose-ball situations they are completely lost. Even a freshman point guard would know to dive on the floor if the ball gets knocked away, but players in NCAA Basketball frequently stare longingly at their lost ball without making any effort to recover it. Players also have questionable court awareness. If you can enact a double team just after a player crosses midcourt, they will frequently step back behind the half court line, stupidly turning the ball over for no real reason. While running an offense, players will all too often run out of bounds and never come completely back in, which leads to frustrating turnovers if you mistakenly pass them the ball. Baffling enough, oftentimes players will clearly step out of bounds but won't be called for it, which is just maddening if you are the one getting jobbed. None of these small complaints destroy the overall experience, but they crop up often enough to dampen the energetic fun.
Thankfully, the presentation doesn't run into the same blunders. There are two different broadcast teams, and though both groups have a tendency to repeat themselves, they provide a unique analysis and their own energy. Dick Vitale provides commentary for regular season games, and though his enthusiasm is hard to ignore, Gus Johnson is just amazing. Gus brings his unbridled passion to March Madness, and it makes these already-exciting games even better. Although he doesn't quite burst with happiness as he so often does in real life, his glee for the sport is clearly present, and he calls the action with the same gripping style that makes his real-life broadcasts so memorable. There is nothing quite like hitting a game-winning jumper and having Gus Johnson joyously scream at the same time. NCAA Basketball also uses the overlays and stat updates you would see during real-life broadcasts, which brings even more authenticity to the experience.
Unfortunately, as intense as the on-court action is, there just aren't enough ways to experience it. You can play a one-off game, start up your own dynasty, or compete in the big tournament, but there aren't any unique modes to play around with in NCAA Basketball 10. You can create you own player, give him a silly name and game-changing attributes, but you cannot take control of him through his career and refine his skills into a potential Wooden Award winner. The lack of direct impact lessens the appeal of this feature, making the player seem far too separate to actually care about. Instead, the only rewarding long-term aspect is building a championship team through wise recruiting, but it's a predictable system that pales in comparison to crafting your own superstar. The on-court action is deep enough to hide the lack of interesting options, but it's a shame there aren't more ways to experience this often-thrilling simulation.
At least competitive matches are top notch. You can challenge a buddy either online or on one system, and it's a blast to drain a killer three in his face or execute a perfect trap to force an opportune turnover. And that's the best part of NCAA Basketball 10. The game so closely mirrors the real sport that it's satisfying whether you're struggling to pick up the intricacies of the motion offense or punishing ill-prepared teams with a full-court press. NCAA Basketball 10 is too similar to NBA Live 10 to make it worthwhile if you already own that game, and the lack of diverse modes hinders the long-term appeal. But the core action is so fast and rewarding--plus the broadcast-style presentation so close to reality--that NCAA Basketball 10 is a good alternative for those who favor the style of amateur athletes over highly paid professionals.